“Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a speeding locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look . . . it’s Superman.” If you are like me, you remember hearing this introduction of Superman on TV. You probably wished, like me, that you had all those super powers instead of being a mere mortal.  If you are a caregiver, you probably wish even more that you had super powers.

Being a caregiver is grueling work on several levels. As the person receiving care becomes more and more debilitated, caregiving becomes physically exhausting. The responsibility of being a caregiver for someone is emotionally draining.  And the combination of being physically exhausted and emotionally drained can shorten the caregiver’s life. However, caregiving does not have to be this way.  All it takes is recognition that you cannot do it alone and a willingness to get the help that is needed. Now, I know that at this point that some of you are ready to say, “But . . .” So, let us take a look at some of the “Buts.”

  1. But he/she does not let anyone else do . . . for him/her. There is a reason for this, and it is because he/she is more comfortable with you as a caregiver than with someone else. But this does not mean that your loved one cannot become comfortable with someone else providing care. Caregiving has a very slippery slope. In the beginning one person can do it all, but, as the needs of the person receiving care increase, caregiving becomes an overwhelming task. This is why it is good at the beginning of a debilitating illness or disease to include others in caregiving. Then your loved one needing care will not become dependent on you as the only caregiver. If you are already reaching the point of being overwhelmed, it is not too late to bring in help. Just as many athletes go by the saying, “no pain; no gain,” caregivers need to go the saying, “short term disruption; long term benefit.” If you continue to go it alone, both you and your loved one needing care will suffer.
  2. But I promised him/her that I would keep him/her at home. These promises are often made between spouses, but not exclusively. While they are noble, unless you have a crystal ball that actually can see into the future and know that a care facility will never be needed, this is a promise that you may not be able to keep. If you have made such a promise, but now you are at the point where your loved one’s care is beyond the ability to be handled at home, you need to think about what is behind that promise. I believe that the intent behind this promise is to make sure that your loved one has the care he or she needs and that he or she will not be abandoned. If you have made the promise to keep your one at home, and your loved one needs placement in a care facility, your loved one may or may not understand the intent of your promise. But it may help you to know that you are keeping the intent of the promise, even if you cannot keep the entire promise itself.
  3.  But I meant it when I said, “ . . . for better or for worse; in sickness and in health . . .” so it is my responsibility to be the caregiver.  Obviously, these words are a part of many marriage vows, but they do not say that only you can be a caregiver for your spouse. Being a responsible caregiver means recognizing your own limitations and using available resources to make sure your spouse has the care he or she needs.
  4. But we cannot afford to get needed help. For a few people this may actually be true, but often this is used as an excuse. Until you have checked out all available resources, you simply do not know if there is affordable help or not. Over a number of years I have met people who do not want to use their “rainy day fund,” even though they are drowning in the “rain.” However, even if you have no “rainy day fund,” it does not mean there is no affordable help. Check with your local Aging office for more information on resources that may be available on a sliding-scale basis. For some people, an Adult Day Program is a cost effective alternative to placement in a care facility. The LIFE program may be an option for people eligible for Medicaid. If you own your home, a reverse mortgage may help exchange the equity in your home to pay for the help you need. If you or your spouse is a wartime veteran, there may be financial help from the VA. Some churches and civic groups provide volunteer help. But you will not know what help is available if you do not do some research and ask questions.
  5. But no one else knows how to . . . sometimes it is nice to know you are needed, but as I have mentioned earlier it is very easy for a solo caregiver to become overwhelmed. While you may presently be the only one to know the special ways your loved one likes care to be provided, it is knowledge that is transferrable. Simply put, you can teach other caregivers what you have learned that make it easier to provide the care your loved one needs.
  6. But I’m too busy being a caregiver to find out what help is available. This is the statement of a caregiver who has already reached the point of being overwhelmed. This is the time to enlist the help of another family member, close friend, a social agency such as the local Aging office, to help you set up some short-term caregiving help in order for you to develop a long-term caregiving plan.

Caregivers are important, and the reason for this article is not to make caregivers feel guilty for not getting help, but for them to realize that the longer they care for a loved one with a debilitating condition, the more they are going to need help. In another article I will talk more about help available for caregivers.

John Reese
Elder Care Coordinator